Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Don’t Talk to Irene, or: Failure in Drag

As much as I miss Horror Month on the blog, I love months when anything goes.  This explains how we shift gears completely from last week’s dark exploration of human nature to this week’s film about befriending maggots, cheerleading, and Geena Davis.

The Film:

Don’t Talk to Irene

The Premise:

In spite of her mother’s disapproval and bullying from her peers, teenager Irene dreams of being a cheerleader and gains an unexpected squad in the form of a group of retirement home residents.

The Ramble:

The ‘burbs of Toronto:  so close to the city yet so far.  Irene is a relentlessly positive teen living in the ‘burbs, determined to join the cheerleading squad.  So what if she wears plus size clothing, adopts maggots as pets, and holds conversations with the poster of Geena Davis above her bed?

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According to Irene’s mother, there’s a lot wrong with this picture.  Mom (who I don’t think is ever named?), a cheerleader until becoming a teen mom in high school, worries that Irene will be bullied or scorned by her peers.  Too late to worry on that front as Irene is well aware she’s considered a loser but seems to give zero fucks.

On the first day of school, Irene creates a DIY cheerleader outfit to try out for the team.  This doesn’t go unnoticed by new student Tesh, a fabulous dresser and the self-described Switzerland of gender.  They are completely on board with Irene challenging the status quo.

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One person decidedly not on board with this is Sarah, a classmate who decides to humiliate Irene for the hell of it.  Convincing Irene and a few other naive girls that they must lick the shower of the boys’ locker room to make the squad, Sarah films the gross prank and posts it on social media.  Obviously when this goes public, the school principal is not amused and suspends Irene, Sarah, and her boyfriend.  During their time away from school, they will complete mandatory community service at the local retirement home.

Determined to make the best of things, Irene befriends several of the residents:  the sweet but forgetful Millie, curmudgeonly Charles, and suggestive Ruth.  When Irene hears about a reality show contest, she schemes to put together a cheer routine with a squad of her own making:  the residents and staff of the retirement home.  Initially Irene’s pet project, the residents quickly buy into the plan and look forward to learning their new moves.  And of course Sarah is there at every turn to sabotage Irene.

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As Irene faces setbacks, Geena Davis and her new friends teach her to be resilient.  Charles shows Irene how to respond to bullies and to throw a perfect punch.  Tesh, in on the plan too, utters perhaps my favorite line in cinema: “Success is just failure in drag.”

Closer to being part of the contest than ever, Sarah pulls out all the stops to prevent Irene from accomplishing her goals.  With the retirement home manager, Irene’s mother, and a flat tire to contend with, the squad has a lot to overcome.  Does this mark the end of Irene’s dream to defy the odds and become a cheerleader?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s just say there are no shocking twists to this story–it’s a genuine, feel-good film that is precisely what I needed.  Irene is such a sweet character who doesn’t even seem to notice when others try to put her down.  I would really like to borrow some of Irene’s optimism and absolute indifference to horrible douchebags.

Some criticism:  Irene’s mom is a bit disappointing, and her inevitable change of heart feels a bit too little too late.  Though she claims everything she does is to protect Irene, she constantly fat shames her daughter and discourages her for most of the film.  Sarah’s antics get irritating as well; she’s often frustratingly one-dimensional.  I do admit I wish Irene had taken things a step further with some of her choices, but the entire point of her character is about staying positive and not holding onto insecurities.

However, so many of the other characters are so sweet I’d put them in my coffee (if coffee weren’t vile). For once all of the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia here seems authentic instead of hipster ironic.  I love that Geena Davis was part of this film.  And Milli Vanilli helps teach us a valuable lesson about being true to yourself.  What’s not to like?

Did my blog wife cheer this one on or consider it success in drag?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hold the Dark, or: Men, Manly Men

Although our absolute favorite month on the blog is over, there’s no reason we can’t celebrate November by doing whatever we like.  This month, we’ll be returning to our old stand-by:  the free for all.  We’re starting out with a reminder that it’s going to get chilly before too long, though hopefully not as cold as Alaska.

The Film:

Hold the Dark

The Premise:

Arriving in smalltown Alaska to hunt a killer wolf, a writer/wolf expert quickly becomes embroiled in a shocking murder case.

The Ramble:

After Medora’s son is taken by wolves in Alaska, she writes to that guy from Westworld (Jeffrey Wright), famed for his writings about living with wolves.  Her son is not the first victim of the wolves, but the authorities have done little to prevent further attacks.

Unexpectedly, wolf expert extraordinaire Russell responds to the letter, promising to find the wolf that brought an untimely end to more than one life.  While he won’t receive pay for his services, Russell hopes the trip will give him an opportunity to reconnect with his daughter, a teacher in Anchorage.  He must be pretty damn committed as he’s not swayed even when an Inuit woman warns him that Medora knows evil.

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Meanwhile, Medora’s husband Vernon is off at war, completely unaware of the tragedy that has happened at home.  After killing a fellow soldier who assaulted a local woman, Vernon has a near miss with death when he is shot in the neck.  His injuries are so severe he is sent home in critical condition.

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Soon after Russell begins his search, he returns to Medora’s home to find her missing.  Decidedly not missing but also no longer living is Bailey, the child supposedly stolen by wolves.  This leads police to the horrible but undeniable conclusion that Medora, having killed her child, invented the wolf story to cover her tracks.  When Vernon discovers the truth, he kills multiple cops, steals the case file on his son’s murder, and swears revenge on his wife.

So begins a rather tedious round of searches:  police search for Vernon, Medora searches for a place to hide, and everyone searches for Medora.

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If Vernon taking out people one by one as he treks across Alaska isn’t enough excitement for you, just wait until his friend Cheeon joins in.  Cheeon’s daughter is one of the victims of the supposed wolf attacks and really, really doesn’t like the police.  After a standoff, Cheeon manages to wipe out a good 75% of the police force.

This is, of course, all leading up to a confrontation between Vernon, Medora, and Russell/the police.  Who will find Medora first–and who will survive the reunion?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The desolate Alaskan landscape matches this film’s bleak atmosphere perfectly.  Somehow I feel more inclined to visit Alaska while also never wanting to go there.  Survival is an impressive feat for all of the characters here, contending with the extreme climate, packs of wolves, and dark human intentions.

However, there are a lot of problems with this film.  I’m left with so many more questions than answers.  All of our characters are kept at a distance–we don’t get to see much into their brains and dissect their motives, feelings, or histories.  Failing to get a motive for any of our leads–Russell, Medora, and Vernon–is unsatisfying and leaves me thinking “So what?”  As a result, most of the events of this film seem loosely connected by strings of random violence.

There are also times when the film seems to become a parody of masculinity, though this is at no point a funny movie.  Something about Vernon tramping around in a wolf mask, killing people left and right, seem to belong more in the realm of a supervillain.  And he straight up stabs a guy in the skull at one point–dude must have a sharp fucking knife.

This also brings me to the point of why the fuck so many people had to die???  So many of the violent deaths here are so senseless and could have been easily avoided, yet the message of the film doesn’t seem to comment on the violence.  There seems to be some attempt at a social justice message involving the police, the Inuit people, and violence.  But this never feels fleshed out, and I can’t help drawing a negative comparison to Wind River in my mind.  Whereas Wind River has a clear message about violence against Native American women and delves into the grief characters experience after a horrific murder, Hold the Dark feels somewhat hollow as it doesn’t explore its characters’ emotions or have a message underneath that frigid Alaskan landscape.

Would my blog wife cozy up around the fire with this one or track it to the ends of the Earth and stab it in the skull?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World, or: Frenchy McFrenchface

This week’s film brings Horror Month to a close (say it isn’t so)!  In true French spirit, this film does horror with style (and is based on a true story!).

The Film:

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World

The Premise:

Paula Maxa, famous for dying onstage in every performance, may be the target of a real-life killer.

The Ramble:

Welcome to 1930s Paris, a world full of cigarettes, drama, religious zealots, and…murder?  The (in)famous Paula Maxa has the distinction of being murdered every night at the Grand Guignol Theatre, much to the dismay of a die-hard group of protestors.  Believing her violent act will yield acts of real violence, the protestors only seem to create more intrigue around the scandalous show.

You have to give credit to the theater crew for keeping things fresh–Paula’s deaths are always gruesomely staged with a disturbing amount of attention to detail.  Whether being stabbed, choked, or beheaded, the stunts always look real.  Possibly because the blood and body parts involved aren’t props but harvested from human victims…?

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On this particular evening, there are several audience members of note watching the show.  First is an older man with his young lover in a private box.  The man in question seems much more interested in Paula’s bloody death than anything his lover has to offer.  That can’t be good.

Another person of importance is a journalist, Jean, writing a story about the Grand Guignol as a den of depravity.  After the show the next night, Jean meets Paula at a bar straight out of a film noir.  He’s immediately intrigued and determined to learn more about the glamorous, aloof star.

Meanwhile, Paula is having flashbacks to her younger days, and they aren’t particularly happy memories.  These seem to be influenced in part by the awful director who is determined to drive Paula insane for some reason?  Mostly because he’s a douche?

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As Paula opens up to Jean, she reveals the tragic secret in her past she’s held onto for so many years.  She also hints that she’s ready to leave the theatre and will do so with an appropriate amount of dramatic flair.

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Unfortunately, someone else seems ready for Paula to exit, stage left, in real life.  The choice to re-create Paula’s past onstage seems rather ominous.  Like Paula’s past, will this story end in tragedy?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

More film noir than horror, this film has a wonderful aura of mystery.  The gory effects paired with the melodramatic onstage deaths are impossible to resist.  As an added bonus, the film fits in nicely with the blog collab’s unoffical subtheme:  Women Who Look Good Smoking.

However, there are a lot of elements that never feel fully fleshed out.  I expected more to happen with the religious zealots, and almost all of the character motivations are confusing.  This is the kind of film where I anticipate a clever twist, but the end is just…a very French ending indeed.  (Not in a dirty way.)

Would my blog wife resurrect this act for a grand finale or let it die IRL?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ouija: Origin of Evil, or: Spirit of the ’60s

I’m so happy it’s Horror Month on the blog.  Not so happy that this week’s film features incredibly creepy children, but you can’t win ’em all.  At least we’ve got some fab ’60s style to go along with it.

The Film:

Ouija: Origin of Evil

The Premise:

Evil originates.  Through a Ouija board.  In the 1960s.

The Ramble:

Alice is a 1960s mom trying to make ends meet–so what if that involves tricking people into believing their deceased relatives are communicating to them from beyond the grave?  As far as I’m concerned, Alice earns every penny as she’s put some serious creativity and intense detail into the whole endeavor.

Since the death of her husband, Alice is raising moody and extremely skeptical Lina, along with the younger Doris, who desperately wants to reconnect with her father.

One evening, Lina and her rebellious friends bust open the liquor cabinet and use a Ouija board to talk to the spirits of the dead…spooky!  Despite Lina’s eye rolling, the group is genuinely freaked out until they are interrupted by the arrival of parentals.  After a stern talking to, Alice concedes that Ouija is all the rage and decides to add it to her skill set.

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Meanwhile, Lina has agreed to attend the Homecoming dance with her friend Mikey.  When Mikey comes over to walk Lina to school, Alice gives him a stern talking-to and makes sure he understands how short his lifeline will be if he hurts Lina in any way.

At school, Doris is tormented by a couple of nasty little boys.  The head of their school, Father Tom, manages to earn some major points with Alice when he intervenes and cheers up Doris.  Though there seems to be something between Alice and Father Tom, it’s too bad since he’s married to the church and such.

As she practices with the Ouija board, Alice makes the rookie mistake of using the board alone and doesn’t say goodbye to the spirit.  Things get eerie when Doris begins responding to Alice’s questions from the 2nd floor of the house…creepy!  Even worse, Doris completes homework in beautiful cursive with the help of her “friend.”

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Though skeptical at first, Alice begins to believe Doris is able to speak to the dead when she claims her father is communicating with her, providing details Doris couldn’t possibly know on her own.  After finding a hidden stash of money and saving the house from foreclosure, Doris and her new talent prove very lucrative indeed.

However, it should surprise no one when Doris gets even more fucking creepy, using her mind to turn a bully’s mean prank against him, describing in detail to Mikey what it’s like to die by choking to death, and sewing a doll’s mouth shut to stop the voices.  Give that child over to the state, lady.

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After Lina brings Father Tom’s attention to letters Doris has mysteriously written in fluent Polish, the priest visits the house in the guise of connecting to his deceased wife.  What this Ouija session reveals is the frightening and rather confusing truth about who is really reaching out from the other side.

How many will still be on the side of the living by the time the credits roll?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This isn’t a bad film, but doesn’t strike me as particularly memorable.  Initially quite watchable, the amount of time spent on setting the scene becomes tedious after a while.  Even though we spend a lot of time with our main 3 characters, I still didn’t really care about what happened to any of them.

I do love a period drama, though, and the ’60s details are absolutely gorgeous.  Doris is ridiculously creepy, but it’s not enough to hold the film together.

Would my blog wife’s spirit possess this one or search for a more worthy host elsewhere?  Find out here!

Life Rants

#Goals

I’ve been blogging here for over 4 years now.  And while it’s been so worth it in terms of meeting my blogging partner and internet love of my life, A Voluptuous Mind, I haven’t become a social media influencer, the voice of a generation, or even the kind of blogger who every now and then gets free samples of all-natural snacks to review.

According to a widget on my blog’s side bar, I have 172 followers, a number I don’t understand (but choose not to question).  What I do know is this number in no way accurately reflects the number of people who regularly read this blog, which is approximately 3% of that number (looking at you, whoever is Googling “hillbilly woman murderer from the 1800’s” and “does the cat die in hush”).

I can’t say I’m sad about the lack of a following most of the time, since any large group on the internet seems to be composed of about 30% (or more) trolls and/or Russian bots.  But I do at times aim to write and post more on this blog than I do, and I wonder if that lack of followers holds me back in spite of myself.  One of the first questions people usually ask about my blog is how many readers it has.

Tim Wu has written this wonderful article, “In Praise of Mediocrity,” that asserts the way we talk about hobbies has gotten absolutely out of control.  It’s not enough to dabble in sketching; you must illustrate and animate a 12-minute short film to prove you have a true passion for your hobby.  And it’s out of the question you keep at something even when all evidence suggests you may not have any talent for it whatsoever.

I keep meaning to write more, but I worry what I write will be garbage.  I have been telling myself to do more sketching or actually focus on a fucking practical hobby like knitting or give sailing a go since I’m surrounded by water now.

And admittedly, I’ve had a lot going on lately and am trying to be patient with myself.  But I also want to avoid falling into a routine before I’ve had the opportunity to try different things and absorb new experiences.

Wu writes “to permit yourself to do only that which you are good at is to be trapped in a cage whose bars are not steel but self-judgment.”

There are a lot of chances I haven’t taken because I was too busy feeling like shit about myself or worried that others would see too clearly what a talentless hack I was.  But goddamnit, I want to learn to sail.

Photo by chuttersnap

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Patchwork, or: Women Gotta Stick Together

TGIO–Thank God It’s October,  aka the best month on the blog, and arguably the best month period.   Nothing but horror to see here.  This week brings us a modern horror-comedy inspired by Frankenstein, featuring what may be the most jarring sight of all:  a non-ginger Fred Weasley.

The Film:

Patchwork

The Premise:

Three women seek revenge after being transformed into a grotesque creature at the hands of a modern-day Frankenstein.

The Ramble:

Los Angeles:  City of Dreams.  Also city of disreputable plastic surgeons with gruesome passion projects.

Successful but aloof Jennifer spends her birthday alone at a bar only to wake up the next day as the victim of a modern-day Frankenstein experiment.  Along with bubbly sorority girl Ellie and socially awkward Madeleine, parts of Jennifer’s face and body have been used to make one perfect woman (for convenience/laziness purposes, referred to as JEM from this point on).  Unfortunately, their new body is highly scarred and traps their 3 distinct minds together.

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In spite of disagreement about what happened and exactly whose body this is, JEM work together to escape (hampered by George from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).  As they regroup at Jennifer’s apartment, JEM decide first they will unravel the truth about what happened, then work to restore each mind to her separate body.

All 3 stories seem to share the bar where Jennifer spent a miserable birthday alone, Vic’s.  Could Jennifer’s medical student friend be the surgeon gone psychotic?

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Next is a deep dive into Ellie’s memories.  The night of her abduction, Ellie was trying desperately to impress a pompous artist who clearly doesn’t make art as such an act would be much too capitalist.  Could Banksy 2.0 have been the culprit?

As for Madeleine, she was drinking alone at Vic’s until a D-list celebrity decided to join her.  Though quiet and awkward, Madeleine asks Mr. I-Have-a-Drink-Named-After-Me back to her place.  Could this self-important pseudo-celeb have a dark hobby?  (Spoiler:  no.  Madeleine actually has a rather impressive collection of body parts in her fridge…)

I should note that as JEM narrow down their list of suspects, they are taking the process of elimination to an extreme and killing off the dudes they encounter.  Few tears are shed as these are men who have been emotionally manipulative, creepy AF, or just so goddamn annoying.

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We also get the love story no one asked for when Madeleine and Ellie decide Fred Weasley (or whatever the fuck his character’s name is in this film) is their type–or at least is there and available.  This plot point unintentionally brings up an interesting philosophical discussion about consent–if one body houses more than one consciousness, how many have to agree for it to be consent?  Yet another good reason to never try to Frankenstein people.

Philosophical questions aside, who is responsible for JEM’s transformation and how will they rain bloody vengeance down upon his head?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Even though the second half of this film is an absolute mess, I just can’t resist the first part.  The premise of the film is so fun:  mix one of my favorite literary classics with gory horror, social commentary, and ladies working together to get shit done.  Though the characterization of the 3 women isn’t always the most fleshed out, the scenes where they bond and begin to conspire are delightful.  I unexpectedly liked Ellie a lot; even though she is the sorority girl stereotype, Ellie is no mean girl and shows vulnerability that really resonates for me.

Unfortunately, the film tries unsuccessfully to make a statement amidst a completely incoherent plot.  It’s fruitless to expect to achieve the so-called perfect body, women gotta stick together, revenge is actually quite fulfilling–what the actual fuck is the message here???  Perhaps most unforgivably of all, it dangles the satisfying idea of a female serial killer targeting egomaniacs only to rip this away from us with a, er, clever twist.

I also really hate that Madeleine’s history of mental illness is brought up as something of an explanation for her violent behavior and (spoiler/not really a spoiler) obsession with having the perfect body.  Equating mental health with violence is problematic AF.  Furthermore, women feeling like shit about their bodies can be related to and exacerbated by mental illness–but it’s also very much an issue of social conditioning and, IDK, LIVING IN THIS WORLD.

And, of course, the tacked-on romance with a mediocre non-ginger Weasley just isn’t wanted or needed.  I don’t want to see women hook up with boring heteronormative white dudes; I want to see them stab the fuck out of people (preferably men).

I have to say, however, the first part of the film did bring me a lot of joy.

Did my blog wife get attached to this one or would she saw off her own arm to get away from it?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Veronica, or: Smells Like Teen Spirits

As an absolute garbage month this year, September can go die in a dumpster fire as far as I’m concerned.  Praise be to all that is unholy it’s once again the most wonderful time of the year:  the month of October, Halloween, and…uh, Mean Girls Day?  You know what that means for the blog:  horror, horror, horror.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Film:

Veronica (2017)

The Premise:

After a Ouija board session gone wrong, 15-year-old Veronica must keep her younger siblings safe and send the demon she accidentally summoned back where it came from.

The Ramble:

The following events are based on a real police report filed in 1991 Madrid, as our film cautions us right out of the gate.  Oooooooooh, spooky!

Though Veronica is just 15 and still in braces, she is the main caretaker for her 3 younger siblings.  Since Veronica’s father died, her mother works long night shifts at a bar, leaving Veronica to get her siblings up and ready for school.  Some days go better than others, depending on Veronica’s alarm clock and the level of her siblings’ brattiness.

The Catholic school Veronica and her siblings attend is all abuzz about the upcoming solar eclipse.  Ominously, Veronica and her friends plan to contact her father using a Ouija board while the rest of the school views the eclipse.  And of course they have to call upon spirits in the creepiest space ever that for some reason is easily accessible to pretty much anyone who can climb down a few metal rungs and is not considered a safety hazard???

I’ve got to say, this made me so nostalgic for the days of actually using giant hulking reference books–for example, The Great Encyclopedia of the Occult consulted in the film.

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However, nothing else about the teens’ Ouija experience is as fun as occult reference materials when, instead of reaching the spirit of Veronica’s father, they summon a malevolent demon.  As the board breaks, book catches fire, and the lights flicker off, Veronica seems to be possessed.  When she lies on the floor whispering to herself, then suddenly sits up and screams, all bets are off.  Veronica’s friends are well and truly freaked the fuck out.

At home, things don’t get much better.  Veronica seems to have episodes of being possessed, and both sees and hears a presence in their apartment at different times.  The lights flicker, doors slam open and shut, the TV turns on by itself.  When Veronica gives her brother a bath, the faucet mysteriously turns on with scalding water, giving him burns on his body.

The next day at school, Veronica has a conversation with an elderly blind nun known as Sister Death, who also happens to be a chain smoker.  The Sister warns her there is a presence with her that she must send back from whence it came.  Veronica is also tasked with keeping her siblings safe from the demon she inadvertently summoned.

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Veronica gets serious about using pagan symbols to protect her siblings and insists all 4 camp out together in the living room that night.  Riled up about demons in the house, the children are terrified when their mother comes home and demands to know what is going on.  Of course Veronica gets a stern lecture because parents just don’t understand.

Determined to be rid of the demon, Veronica tries to enlist the help of her friends in summoning it and sending it away.  Still traumatized by their Ouija session gone wrong, Veronica’s friends refuse to go near the board ever again.

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Still intending to stick with her plan, Veronica decides she will send the demon back with the help of her younger siblings.  And of course things go horribly, horribly wrong from there, resulting in the infamous real life police report.

What terrors in the report could have traumatized the lead detective on the case and spawned rumors that the house is haunted?  You’ll have to watch the film to find out!  Or I guess you could Google it.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The premise here is decent and not your formulaic teens who shouldn’t have fucked with a Ouija board horror.  Veronica has depth and is quite sympathetic as a protagonist who wants to connect with her father, later transformed into fierce older sister and protector of her siblings.

However, this just isn’t particularly scary.  There seems to be a checklist of cliche signs of a  demonic possession this film is determined to cross off.  Honestly, the creepiest scene for me was one where Veronica dreams her siblings are attacking and eating her…but we’ve all been there, right?

I absolutely loved Sister Death and her doom and gloom warnings–even if they are too little too late.  If we get a prequel about her, I will be on that so fast.

Would my blog wife summon this one again or send it back ASAP?  Find out here!